Reaching the Campuses of Our Great Cities by Planting Churches
When we look back at the history of the evangelical church in recent decades, we sadly can see how the church often left and neglected the great cities of our country. It is an unfortunate part of our past that has greatly impacted these cities and the people who live in them. By neglecting these cities, not only did we pull back from them in general, but by those actions we were also neglecting the universities in those cities. Many of the key, culture-shaping universities in our nation are located in or very near more urban settings and for decades have had few healthy churches located within a reasonable proximity. So, hundreds of thousands of students in their most formative years as they wrestle with life and eternity-shaping questions have little access to a church where they can clearly hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and see a community of believers that is shaped by this gospel.
How are we to reach and engage these campuses that are located in our cities? We must engage in the intentional planting of churches in the great cities of our country and near these campuses. In the last decade or so there have been encouraging trends in this direction, but only time will tell if the church will maintain this focus and if we will be willing to be patient and sacrificial in order to see healthy churches established. Even with the recent progress in this area, there are hundreds of new churches that are needed across the country to take the gospel to these urban campuses.
What kind of churches are needed to reaches these campuses? In many ways, a church that is just like any other church in that it is driven by and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and is a community of believers that is shaped by this gospel. One key element of these churches has to be proximity to the campuses of our cities. Christian students may be willing to travel significant distances across the city to attend a church, but if we are to reach those students who have never heard and so desperately need the gospel, we must be planting churches that are within a close distance of the campuses.
Perhaps surprisingly, I also believe primarily, although not exclusively, in the planting of multi-generational churches. This can be challenging in many neighborhoods of our cities where the average age is slanted very young, but there is something compelling, attractive and explained only by the grace of God in the gospel when there is a real community that involves an undergraduate students in a real relationship with a middle-aged family and a graduate student enjoying the fellowship of a senior adult. These churches must also see the campus as a part of their mission field. This would seem to be self-evident, but sadly that’s not always been the case, so we need to plant churches that are eager to engage the students of the campuses. In these churches, we must seek to winsomely, carefully and clearly speak to the various worldviews that are dominant on the campus and to the skeptical attitude towards the message of Jesus Christ that is so common. This can be done best through the consistent preaching of the gospel from the entire Bible that seeks to speak to the believer and nonbeliever on a week-to-week basis.
There are no doubt challenges in planting churches in our cities and near the campuses. Often the cities are very expensive and that impacts every element of the planting of a church and often leads to a long path towards being financially self-sustaining. Students also are typically not wealthy and are unable to contribute significant amounts to these church plants. And there is the fact that students are most often very transient, so there is always a steady turnover of students that affects the way a church plant will need to function. Some have seen these challenges as reasons not to attempt churches in these areas, but just because there are significant challenges doesn’t mean that this costly mission field isn’t of great value.
Those challenges are real but can often be overstated or misunderstood. Students can and do give sacrificially to a local church and can often give more than we might think. In addition to financial contributions, students can contribute in so many ways to a church in their city—energy, creativity, flexible schedules with which to serve, a willingness to attempt radical projects, and so much more. Transience is a fact, but if the church is willing to embrace this, it can be leveraged to aid the spread of the gospel around our nation and to the world. If we can equip these students well during their time in university as they scatter throughout the world for work and additional study, they can be valuable gospel laborers around the globe.
There is a great opportunity and mission field before us in our cities. May we in this generation turn great focus to the cities and campuses of our nation and the world.
Curtis Cook is the Pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, MA.